Illustration by Andres Garzon
Tommy stopped believing in monsters after his mother died.
It wasn’t long after his mother’s chemo treatment that he started to forget what her face looked like. He could no longer see her bright, radiant smile. The glow of her beautiful brown eyes. Her calm reassuring voice silent. His father tried to explain it to him as best he could. How mommy was really sick and was going to need a lot of special medicine to make her feel better. He told him that he needed to be a big boy. His father couldn’t tell his little boy the truth outright, that his mother was dying and there wasn’t that much time left.
Tommy tried really hard to be the big boy his parents asked him to be, but his mother’s degeneration was too much for him to handle. His mother did not respond to the treatment as well as they had hoped. After a couple of months Tommy could no longer recognize the woman in his mother’s bed. What lay there instead was a grotesque version of her former self: her skin was pale and yellow, her eyes were sunk in, and were struggling to stay open. Even her hair was falling out, with only little strands remaining.
Tommy had a hard time understanding the whole thing. What used to be his mother was now turning into what he could only imagine a person looked like before turning into a skeleton, like the decorations he saw last Halloween when his parents took him around the neighbourhood trick-or-treating. He remembered how scary they looked. His mother looked like she was disappearing, fading away into nothing. He didn’t know it, but his mother was always aware of the horror in her son’s face, the shock in his eyes, when he came to see her. And this look of fright and confusion, which she held herself responsible for, only made her condition worse. It broke her heart to leave her son like this.
He wasn’t with her the night she died. His father had taken him into his mother’s room to say goodnight, like they always did. Tommy was usually too afraid to go in alone. His father held his hand as he walked up to his mother’s bedside. She was barely awake when Tommy said goodnight. She rolled her head over to her side to see him standing there, with that same look of fear in his face. But she somehow managed to smile, and for a second her eyes had that old glow. Tommy saw this look in her face and for a moment he wasn’t afraid anymore. She lifted her hand, and touched his face. She summoned up all her strength and said: “I love you very much Tommy. Remember to always be brave.”
She didn’t know it then, but that would be the last thing she would ever say to him. Tommy’s father took him back to his room and tucked him into bed. His father stood in the doorway for a moment. He wanted to tell Tommy that everything would be okay, but he knew it wouldn’t be.
“Good night Tommy.” That was all he could say before gently shutting the door to his son’s room.
Later that night, Tommy woke up due to a sound that he had never heard before. It wasn’t until he walked out into the hallway that he understood where it was coming from. It was dark, but Tommy could see a ray of light shining out from under the door of his mother’s bedroom. He used that as a guiding light to make his way across to the hall, but it wasn’t bright enough to illuminate the rest of the hallway. Framed family portraits looked transformed in the darkness. Their faces in the frames appeared misshapen and distorted. The sound that woke Tommy up was muffled, but it was persistent. And as he approached the door, the noise grew louder. Tommy slowly walked on the tips of his toes, and eventually reached the room.
The moment he opened the door would be burned into his memory for the rest of his life. The weight of it all was almost too much. Tommy couldn’t move or make a sound. He just stood in the middle of the doorway. He saw his father holding his mother’s hand with his head buried in a pillow attempting to muffle the sound of his crying. His mother’s head was rolled over on its side, facing the doorway, looking directly at Tommy. She seemed to stare right through him, and her mouth was wide open. His father lifted his head up to wipe his face, and he noticed Tommy standing in the doorway. He sprung up from the bed, and picked his son up into his arms, holding him tight as he closed the door behind them. He was still crying as he carried Tommy off and back to his room –
That was the last time Tommy saw his mother.
By the time the funeral proceedings had finished, and the distant relatives has parted ways, Tommy was almost seven years old. He didn’t talk very much before the funeral, and not at all after the burial. His father was taking care of him as best he could, but without a mother, a child is bound to lash out. This is exactly what his father thought his son was doing when he started experiencing what he could only identify as night terrors. He would wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of Tommy screaming. At first his father let this behaviour slide, believing that it was due to the serious trauma Tommy had from losing his mother at a young age. But when he confronted Tommy about this, Tommy was reluctant to tell him what was wrong.
Over a quiet dinner one night, he told his son:“I hope you know everything’s going to be okay. You don’t have to be afraid to talk about it.”
Tommy stared down at his plate. His father made him look him in the eyes and asked: “what scares you so much? I can’t keep waking up to you screaming late at night.”
“I keep hearing scary noises at night. It feels like something is in the bedroom with me.”
His father was understanding, but he remained skeptical. He figured this was all in his son’s head. He assured Tommy that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that there were no monsters in his room. That nothing was going to happen, and that he was perfectly safe in his own room at night. He was wrong.
Tommy’s father tucked Tommy into bed every night. He told Tommy he loved him, kissed him on the head, and then closed the door. One night the moon was big and bright in the sky, and it shone right through Tommy’s bedroom window. His goodnight ritual required that the blinds were always pulled up so the outside light could come in, like a night light. It wasn’t much, but it allowed him to make out most of the shapes and shadows in his room. He did his best to clear his mind, and let himself fall asleep. And he was almost there too, until he heard the same strange noise that had been scaring him awake. He tossed and turned until his eyes snapped open. He laid in his bed, motionless. He wasn’t able to identify what it was, but he knew where it was coming from. It always came from under the bed.
The strange noise sounded like something was scratching the floorboards, like something was trying to crawl out from underneath him. Tommy threw the covers over his head and shut his eyes. He wanted to jump out of bed and run straight to his father’s room. He was on the verge of doing just that, when he remembered what he had told his father. That he would be a big boy, and not be afraid of the dark. He repeated over and over again that it was just his mind playing tricks, and he began to calm down. He took comfort in his father’s words, and the noise soon disappeared. Hidden under the covers, Tommy opened his eyes.
He could only hear his own breathing. But then the scratching got louder. Tommy was afraid that whatever was making the sound was beginning to come out from under his bed. He kept thinking of what his father told him, and he lifted his head out from under the blankets, determined to be the big boy he promised he would be. He peered over the edge of the bed, and crawling on the floor was a human skeleton that had long stretches of rotting skin with dry bones poking through the sores. Tommy couldn’t move. He wet himself, and the stream of urine running down his leg was the only thing that kept him warm. He was completely frozen with fear. It looked like someone with broken bones was crawling on his bedroom floor, and through the darkness, Tommy could make out its head by the long strands of hair all curled up around its scalp.
He couldn’t make out a face.
The skeletal figure came to a complete stop in the middle of the room, where it lay in a pool of moonlight from the window. Tommy watched as the head twisted all the way around, revealing its rotting face, staring straight at him as its body still faced forward. He recognized the face.
Despite the rotted skin, the missing teeth, and the sunken eyes, he knew who it was: his mother. She was wearing the same empty expression that she had on the night she had died. Her head was completely turned all the way around now. Her body was still lying on the floor, facing the opposite direction. Tommy’s eyes were locked on his mother’s grotesque face. Her mouth was wide open and all Tommy could hear was the sound of her drool dripping onto the floor.
His room was filled with a disgusting stench that had convinced him that what he was seeing was real. He sat in his bed, his blanket covering half of his face. He was unable to look away completely from the sight of his disjointed rotting mother on the floor. Suddenly, the blinds dropped and the moonlight was gone. Darkness filled the room. Tommy sat in his bed motionless. His eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness that had taken over his room yet, so he couldn’t see the broken body on the floor. Again, his room was filled by an eerie silence. For a moment, he was almost able to convince himself that it was all in his head, that it was a dream.
But then he heard an awful sound that repeated itself over and over again – it sounded like bones cracking and snapping. Terrified, Tommy threw himself back under the covers. The cracking and snapping grew louder. Then, he heard footsteps. It was standing now, and it was walking towards him. Getting closer and closer. He could still hear drool hitting the floor. He trembled under his blankets; there was no way he could look into that face again. Tears ran down his face. He felt the blanket pull away from him. He held onto it as best he could, but he had no strength to fight back. He put his hands over his eyes, and let out a blood curdling scream.
His father barged through the bedroom door, and wrapped his arms around Tommy. After a few minutes of being help in the light, Tommy calmed down. His father figured that Tommy had had a bad dream, but that’s not how Tommy would have described it. It was all too real, even for a six year old boy. He knew what nightmares were, but nothing he had ever experienced was as intense as this. Fortunately, his father didn’t need an explanation. His son was upset, so for the rest of the night, Tommy slept in his room. But only his father was able to get any rest. Tommy wasn’t able to sleep. His eyes were drawn to the closet, as if he knew something was waiting for him inside. The door creaked open, just enough, although nothing crawled out. But Tommy could smell it, that rotting smell.
For the next few nights Tommy continued to sleep in his father’s room. And every night he could still smell the rot. He wasn’t sure if his father could smell it, but he doubted that he did. Despite the disgusting smell, there were no sign of the rotting body he saw on the floor the other night.
Eventually, Tommy’s father was sure his son was doing a lot better. The day finally came when it was time for Tommy to sleep in his own room again. Tommy’s eyes began to tear up when his father told him he’d be sleeping in his own bed again, there wasn’t much Tommy could do. If his father wanted him to sleep in his own bed, then he was going to have to do what he was told. The alternative was telling his father the truth, but he didn’t know how to put that into words.
When it was time for bed that night, and Tommy was being tucked in, his father gave him a picture of his mother. He told him it was the most beautiful picture he had of her. She was holding Tommy all wrapped up in her arms. She was sitting down on the couch in their living room after bringing Tommy home from the hospital. There was a window behind her with the sun shining through, and they both looked so peaceful in the sunlight. Tommy’s father gave it to him to sleep with under his pillow at night, thinking it would help with his nightmares. Tommy took the photo in his hands and looked at it, examining the two happy people in the picture. Then, he placed it carefully under his pillow. His father kissed him on the head and said goodnight. He lifted the blinds, and then closed the door behind him after turning off the light.
The harder Tommy tried to stay awake, the heavier his eyes got, and it wasn’t long before he was fast asleep. He was lying completely still in his bed. His room was totally silent. After a few hours, Tommy was in a deep sleep. He looked peaceful. Suddenly, his head began to twitch, turning back and forth. The peaceful look on his face was gone, replaced by the face of a child having a nightmare. He kept shifting around in his bed until his eyes sprung open, and for a moment he didn’t know where he was. He sat upright and adjusted his eyes in the darkness. Everything was still and quiet. He looked around and saw nothing out of the ordinary. What if there was something waiting for him under his bed?
He gripped the side of his bed and slowly crept over the edge to get a better look down below. His hair was almost touching the floor as it dangled above his head. He was relieved to see that there was nothing there. Just the usual stuff; his toys, a catcher’s mitt and bat, some dirty clothes he pushed under there. He was still hanging over the side of his bed when he heard the closet door creak open behind him. Tommy lifted himself up and saw that the door was wide open. By now his eyes had completely adjusted to the darkness in his room, but he couldn’t see anything inside the closet. The interior was a pocket of pure darkness. A black abyss. Tommy was sitting upright in his bed. Everything was silent again. He couldn’t tell if this was all still a dream. Everything felt so real. Even the endless darkness he was starting into felt all too real.
Then he heard something that send a cold shiver down his spine. Breaking through the silence was a snapping sound coming out of the blackness from inside the closet. Tommy’s eyes grew wide, and he could feel goosebumps all over his skin. He heard that same snapping and cracking sound from the other night. Then he heard it again. The sound of breaking bones. It was getting louder and louder, like it was breaking through the darkness. Tommy just knew from the feeling in the pit of his stomach that something was coming out of the closet. “Hello?” he whispered.
Nothing. Tommy could only hear the sound of his own breathing. Suddenly, behind the thick darkness, he saw the disgusting face, the one that looked like his dead mother. Despite the darkness, he could see right into her eyes. He noticed that the eyes looking through him now were not lifeless. They were frightening. Alive. Tommy found himself gasping for breath—he was lost in her eyes. Without making a sound, she extended her hand out from the darkness and into his room. He could see it better illuminated in the moonlight. Bits of skin dangling on bone. Tommy did not see her mouth move, but he heard her words in his head. His mother’s voice telling him: “Come here, Tommy. Mommy misses you. Come be with your mother.”
He got up, and stood out of bed. His breathing slowed down. He started to move closer to the closet, closer to the extended arm of his rotting mother. “Good boy,” he thought he heard her say.
Tommy was only a couple feet away, when he remembered the picture of his Mother holding him on the couch, sitting in the glow of the sun. The voice in his head suddenly disappeared, and he was no longer convinced that this hideous thing standing in front of him was his own mother. Whatever it was… it wasn’t her. He remembered her beautiful smile, her laugh, the warm glow of her eyes. Tommy was scared, but he was also feeling brave. He could see now that the rotting corpse standing in the closet was merely a crude parody of his real mother.
“You’re not my mum,” said Tommy.
The thing in the closet tilted it’s head up straight, bones cracking and skin tearing. Tommy yelled into the closet. “You’re not my mum!” Over, and over, and over again.
The rotting arm pulled back, retreating into the darkness of the closet. It curled into itself as it snapped back. Tommy kept shouting as loud as he could. As he yelled those words, his strength grew, and the real image of his mother burned brightly in his mind. The thing in the closet curled up into a pile of flesh and bone on the floor. Tommy watched as the interior of his closet came back into view. The pitch black darkness faded away and his clothes were now completely illuminated by the moonlight coming in through his bedroom window. He was still standing in the middle of his room, fists clenched with tears streaming down his face, when his father came into the room. He turned on the light and saw Tommy staring into the closet. Tommy looked up at his father, and said:
“I miss mom.”
Tommy’s father walked into his son’s room, and gave Tommy a big hug. Tommy wrapped his arms around his father as they left his bedroom and went out into the hallway to his father’s room. As his father walked down the hallway Tommy could see clearly the family pictures on the wall. They no longer looked scary in the dark. He felt safe.
A few days later, Tommy’s father sent him to a therapist. He told his son that he was going to see a doctor for his nightmares. This doctor wouldn’t be the like the ones you saw in hospitals. These were doctors that you talked to. Tommy felt okay with talking about the nightmares now. After his father had found him screaming into his closet that night, the nightmares had stopped. Tommy was no longer being visited by that terrible thing that looked like his mother. The image in his head of that thing looked less like his mother with each passing day. The picture his father gave him to keep under his pillow at night had shattered that terrible image in his head for good. When the doctor began asking Tommy questions, he did his best to answer them. He didn’t lie. Tommy knew it was over, and that sooner or later they would see that there was nothing wrong with him. He was just a sad, confused kid, who really missed his mom.
On the way home, Tommy sat in the car, staring out the window. He got to sit up front now. The sky was getting dark and the clouds were turning grey. A storm was coming. Tommy pushed his hand into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out the picture of his mother. She was smiling in the picture, and Tommy smiled right back.
He knew now that nothing lasts forever – people leave, but they aren’t forgotten. The memories we have of our loved ones stay with us long after they are gone.
PAT NADEAU has been living in Montreal ever since he graduated from film school three years ago. Pat currently works in the VFX film industry as a production coordinator. He loves writing short stories and screenplays, and has directed 2 shorts films. His favourite genres are horror, crime, and family dramas, which aren’t always mutually exclusive. He wishes to continue writing and directing in the future.
Copyright © 2018 by Pat Nadeau. All rights reserved.